I moved around quite often throughout my childhood and teenage years–not just from one region to another within the same country, but internationally. At the age of eight, I flew across the ocean from mainland China to the United States, stayed for a year, and then returned to my life in China. At fourteen, I started going to high school on the West Coast of Canada in a small city called Langley in British Columbia, then transferred to a school in Toronto, Ontario only a year later. Upon high school graduation, I had received education from 3 countries, 4 cities, and 5 schools.
In many ways, I am blessed to have had such a diverse educational background. For one, being able to speak two of the most commonly used languages (i.e. English and Mandarin Chinese) at native fluency naturally brings more career opportunities. The exposure to different types of people has also given me an open mind; I have found that I am at ease when interacting with those with different habits and beliefs than me. Yet the constant need to adjust to new surroundings has also instilled insecurity deeply in me: the fear of being forgotten as I start a new journey somewhere else.
Walking through the huge metal doors of my high school in Toronto for the first time was a challenge–I carried the fear every New Girl would have on her shoulders at a new school. However, at the same time, my fear was different–the voice that clutched at the knot in my stomach was not saying Is my outfit cool enough to fit in? But rather How long will it take people to forget about me when I leave?
In high school, when kids were still young enough to dream about miraculously becoming rich and famous, and making a career in Hollywood, I always jokingly poked fun at my friends who wanted to be celebrities by saying that I already was a celebrity–I was the guest star at many schools; I showed up, stayed for a bit, and then left like a vanishing puff of smoke, leaving no trace to be found again. As narcissistic as this metaphor may be, it did capture the reality of my child- and teenage-hood; I barely stayed long enough to form relationships before it was time to leave again.
I am not too sure why or how I suddenly decided to combat this fear of being forgotten when I started school in Toronto; I used to ignore its silent tolls on me without acting upon anything. Perhaps I had heard so much about how high school could be the best part of your life from movies and YouTube videos that I was determined to make my experience a good one as well; perhaps I had become old enough to understand that fears could only be overcome by facing them, not by running away. Regardless, I started to put in the effort in making myself memorable. I made sure to message my friends in China and Vancouver before the relationships completely cooled off and dissipated. I made time for those whom I cared about whether it be hanging out occasionally or offering a comforting shoulder in times of trouble. Most importantly, I expressed a strong desire to stay in touch after graduation. Slowly, I became convinced that the relationships I had built were no longer temporary ones, and now the time has proven my belief to be true, for the friendship groups I had formed in high school have survived the social distancing protocols brought forward during COVID-19 on top of the parting of our ways.
It took me many years to learn how to proactively harness the relationships I have built when ultimately it can be summarized into a few words. This is probably the most invaluable lesson of all that I have learned to move across oceans over the years: cherish those who understand you; do not let them go even if they slip out of your sight.